Theater Dictionary

Theater is the highest form of art. It's words are often used and mixed with other art forms like in dancing. Brush up on your theatre lingo with this dictionary of terms.
Ad Lib: Any lines or actions improvised by the actor.

Apron: The part of the stage floor that
extends beyond the proscenium arch.

Backstage: The whole area behind
the stage, including wings, dressing rooms, control booths and green

Blocking: The precise moment-by-moment
movement and grouping of actors on stage.

Call (noun): The warning a stage
manager gives to the actors about the exact amount of time left before
the curtain rises. The most common call times are half-hour, fifteen
minutes, five minutes, and places. A call can also be a notice of rehearsal
or performance posted on the callboard and reiterated by the stage manager.

Call (verb): The verb describing
the stage manager's directions given to the crew throughout a performance
to ensure all cues take place at the right moment. This is known as "calling" the

Callboard: Bulletin board located
backstage in the green room on which the stage manager posts important
information for cast and crew. Examples of posted items are scene breakdown;
rehearsal schedule; performance schedule; performance running times;
sheet; ticket request forms; reminders of social events; messages
from the public.

Canadian Actors' Equity Association: The
association representing actors, directors, stage managers, dancers,
choreographers and singers.

Collective Creation:
The process by which theatre artists work together as a group to create
a play. The group may be made up exclusively of actors, or it may also
include a director, playwright and designers.

Control Booth(s): A room
or rooms, usually above and behind the audience, from which the play's
sound and lights are controlled. The rooms have a window to allow the
stage manager and technical crew to watch the performance on stage.

Corpse: Theatre slang. To "corpse" for
an actor means to lose control onstage during a performance or a run-through
and laugh uncontrollably. It is often contagious among actors onstage.
This is considered unprofessional conduct!

Cue (noun): The execution of a
lighting or sound effect. An actor's cue is the dialogue line that comes
before their next line.

Cue (verb): To "cue" means to signal
by word or by light that a technical cue or actor move must be carried

Cue Light: A light that when turned
on warns a crew or cast member to perform a cue or to make an entrance.
The light going out signals "go."

Cue Sheet: The listing of cues
to be called by the Stage Manager or taken by the technical crew. Usually
the Stage Manager has a master list and each crew member their own list.

Cue-to-cue: The technical rehearsal
that coordinates the technical aspects of the production to the play
as it has been rehearsed. Only the dialogue that precedes (and sometimes
follows) the actual cue is spoken.

Curtain Call: The reappearance
of the cast after the end of the play during which they acknowledge the
audience's applause.

Cyclorama: Also called a "cyc" (pronounced "sike").
A large light coloured backdrop, sometimes curved, located at the back
of the stage and lit to produce various effects such as sky, fire, coloured
washes. Can also be used as a surface for projected scenery and effects.

Deck: The floor of the stage.

Downstage: The front of the stage.
Historically, many stages were built on a "rake," a rising slope away
from the audience.

Dramaturg: The theatre professional
primarily responsible for managing the literary aspects of a play's production.
The word comes from German and is pronounced with a hard "g".

Dressers: Members of the wardrobe
crew who help actors in and out of their costumes, launder costumes,
distribute them for each performance and assist with any quick changes
that may need to happen.

Drop: A flat piece (or pieces) of fabric,
usually painted for a scenic effect, and most often hung from the fly
floor. A "backdrop" would be hung in the farthest upstage position.

Dry: Theatre slang. When an actor "dries," he/she
forgets all lines and/or blocking, and wishes he/she were anywhere else
but onstage.

Exit Line: Last line spoken by
an actor before leaving the stage.

Flat: A flat piece of scenery consisting
of a wooden or steel frame covered with wooden paneling or canvas. The
surface is painted or decorated as required by the set design.

Fly Floor: The level above the
stage from which drops are hung, and any scenery needing to appear from
above (flies) can be flown.

Focus: For an actor or director, the
focus in a scene is where the audience should be directing its attention.
The production staff refers to the "focus" as the time during which the
lighting designer tells the electrical crew where on stage to aim and
shutter each lighting instrument.

Front of House: Generally
used to refer to members of the theatre staff who sell and handle tickets
and make reservations. It also refers to the ushers and other house attendants.
Commonly abbreviated as F. O. H. Also used to describe the part of the
auditorium that is in front of the proscenium or where the audience is

Gel: A colour filter for a lighting instrument
made of heat-resistant coloured resin used to change the colour of the

Gobo: A thin metal plate that has had a
design cut into its center, which can then be projected by a lighting
instrument. (The effect of a leafy forest floor or bars in a jail could
be conveyed using a gobo.)

Green Room: A room backstage
used by actors and crew members to wait for their entrances or cues.

House: An abbreviation of Front of House;
also used to describe the audience.

House Lights: Lights used
to illuminate the auditorium.

IATSE: Stands for the International Alliance
of Theatrical Stage Employees. IATSE is the union for stagehands and
dressers, as well as some technical theatre and film professions.

Masking: Any flats or curtains that
hide the backstage area from the view of the audience.

Notes: The term used to describe the
communication between the rehearsal hall and the various designers and
other production staff. The stage manager is the main communicator of
the notes to all the various departments. The director also has a "notes" session,
usually after a rehearsal or performance, to give the actors, designers
and production staff feedback on their work, analyze progress, request
changes or suggest improvements.

Off Book: The point in rehearsals
when actors need to know all their lines and are no longer allowed to
carry their scripts.

Panned: A play that has been panned
has been given a very negative review by the theatre critics.

Preview: A performance with an audience,
which takes place before the official opening of a play. Playwrights,
actors and directors use the preview to gauge audience reaction to various
parts of the performance.

Preset: The placing of props, costumes,
scenic elements, etc. in place prior to the beginning of a rehearsal
or performance. Also refers to actors being in place for their entrances.

Prompt Book: The master copy
of the script that contains all the actors' moves on stage and all the
technical cues for the production. Used by the stage manager to coordinate
the running of the production. Sometimes called the prompt script or
simply "the book".

Prompter: A person designated to
give an actor his or her line when it has been forgotten.

Props: Short for "properties". All articles
on stage except the scenery are known as props. Furnishings and other
large items are known as set props. The objects handled by an actor during
his or her performance are called hand props. Props carried on an actor's
person such as pipes, watches or fans are known as personal props.

Proscenium: The arch that forms
a frame at the front of a stage.

Rake: A stage or a riser that is built
on an incline or slant. This may be done to help with visibility, or
create a scenic effect.

Rehearsal: Period before the
performance of a play during which the director and the actors agree
on the meaning of the lines, discover how to tell the story of the play,
develop interesting characters and set the blocking.

Riser: A platform of any size used on
stage to differentiate areas or create focus.

Run-through: A rehearsal
in which the actors perform the play from beginning to end without interruption.
Run-throughs are usually done toward the end of the rehearsal process
when the actors' characterizations and onstage movements are virtually
set. Early attempts to run through the whole play are sometimes called "stagger-throughs" because
they tend not to go smoothly.

Running Time: The length
of time it takes to perform the play, not including intermissions. The
running time can vary somewhat from performance to performance depending
on the speed and energy of the actors and audience response on any given

Scrim: A drop made of a special weave
and used to achieve revelations or other scenic effects. When lit from
the front, a scrim is opaque; when an actor or object behind a scrim
is lit, the scrim becomes transparent revealing the actor or object.

Soundscape: All the music and
sound effects in a production considered as a whole.

Stage Directions:
Indications in the script of specific exits, entrances, bits of business,

Stage Left: Left side of the
stage as determined by the actor standing in the center of the stage
facing the audience.

Stage Right: Right side of
the stage as determined by the actor standing in the center of the stage
facing the audience.

Subtext: The motivations and feelings
underlying the words a character speaks.

Technical Rehearsal (Tech
Rehearsal): The rehearsal(s) during which all physical elements of the
production and all performed elements come together.

Thrust Stage: A stage that
extends out into the auditorium with the audience surrounding the actors
on three sides.

Turntable: A platform or a part
of the deck that can revolve. A turntable can be used to move actors
and scenery in and out of the view of the audience. It can also be used
for special effects.

Traps (Trap Doors): A part of the stage
floor that can open and close allowing actors (or objects) to appear
or disappear.

Understudy: An actor who learns
the lines and blocking of one of the principal characters in the play.
Should one of the principal actors be unable to perform, the understudy
would step in at a moment's notice. Understudies are rare in all but
the largest theatre companies.

Upstage: The back of the stage. To "upstage" another
actor is to move upstage from him/her so he/she must turn away from the
audience to address you, or to move or draw attention away from another

Vomitory: An auditorium entrance
or exit that emerges from the theatre's seating area to connect a thrust stage
with the area below the seating. Dates from ancient Rome where it was
a common architectural feature of coliseums.

Wings: Curtains or flats at the sides of the stage that mask the offstage
area from the audience; also, those areas offstage and to the sides that
have been masked. The term is used in a general way to describe all areas
at the sides of the stage.

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